Why do you call Estonia a singing nation?
If you ask an Estonian to sing, you’ll probably be met with an embarrassed refusal. Yet the typical Estonian is happy to sing in a choir, and choral music is considered by many to be a symbol of the country at large. Estonia is called the “singing nation”, and this nickname largely derives from the tradition of song festivals that have brought together choirs from all over the country since the mid-19th century. It was further validated during the Singing Revolution of the 1980s, when masses of people gathered at the Song Festival Grounds in Tallinn to demand the restoration of national independence by singing patriotic songs.
While Estonians are often regarded as being frugal with words, their cultural world is very much based upon texts. Several key composers, for instance, have looked to folk poetry for inspiration and found stimulation in the 1,300,000-page folklore collection at the Estonian Literary Museum. In the wider world, though, Estonia is probably better known through its less language-centred composers such as Arvo Pärt and Erkki-Sven Tüür.
On the whole, Estonia’s cultural life rests on a stubborn insistence on explaining the world from the nation’s typically self-deprecating perspective, combined with the promotion of Estonian-language education across the full spectrum of music, theatre, figurative and applied art, architecture, film and, last but not least, traditional culture.
Based on the brochure “A Dozen Questions about Estonia”, published by the Eesti Instituut